Main image of article Noob + Buddy System = Effective Team

As engineers we deal with a lot of learning curves, whether it's because of a new job, a new team, a new project or even a new part of a product we've been using for months. We're always having to learn something new, and we do our best to help colleagues and keep them on track.

Childhood FriendsBut Some Help Is Better Than Others...

I've put together a few tried and true suggestions that can give your team a leg up.

  • Documentation. This one is a favorite of large companies. Create and maintain product documentation ranging from architecture docs to how-to and read-me docs. This often looks and reads like a wiki.
  • Use the source, Luke! This one is surprisingly popular, and generally takes the form of an emailed link to a source repository and wishes of good luck. The idea is that the new team member will figure it out from there. After all, this is a competent engineer, right?
  • Training. You don't see this often, but occasionally a new team member's first few days and/or weeks will be spent learning. In extreme cases, this includes training in any IDE, test libraries, build and test systems, etc., and it's usually only for new hires or those making a significant change, such as transferring from support to development.

What About the New Guy?

Though these methods can work, they all leave something out. A new person on the team will have a million questions, and not all of them will be job-related. The number one thing we can do to help n00bs is to make sure they have a place to go with all those questions, technical and non-technical.

The Buddy System

It's a pretty simple approach. The boss, quite possibly you, assigns every new team member a buddy from the existing group. The buddy becomes the go-to person for any questions that need answers, whether they're about lunch policies or code reviews. The buddy system is flexible. Some pair up a lot until the new team member is good to go. Others won't work very closely at all, or end up spending more time on the social team dynamics than on the code. Occasionally, a buddy will act as a sort-of traffic cop, pointing the new colleague to others who can help solve a specific problem. Your team should know you have their backs. Provide resources and don't be afraid to buddy up.